Maldives is an Islamic country that strictly adheres to the Shari'a Law. There are significant restrictions imposed on other religious activities to the extent that hardly any other religions except Islam exist. Most citizens regard Islam as one of their society's most distinctive characteristics and believe that it promotes harmony and national identity. Islam is the only recognized religion. The open practice of all other religions is forbidden. Islam is strongly promoted for national unity and preservation of the government's power. The population is an ethnic mixture, consisting predominantly of South Indians, Sinhalese, and Arabs. Several hundred members of an Indian trading community on the capital island of Malé follow the Shi'a branch of Islam; the rest of the population is Sunni.
Non-Muslim foreigners, including more than 675,000 tourists annually (predominantly Europeans and Japanese) and approximately 70,000 foreign workers (predominantly Pakistanis, Sri Lankans, Indians, and Bangladeshis), are allowed to practice their religions only in private. No Christian work has ever been permitted nor is Christian literature allowed. Proselytizing is forbidden. However, by various means some Maldivians came to faith in Christ in the 1990s.
Government: The 1997 Constitution designates Islam as the official state religion. The Government requires all citizens to be Muslims. Freedom of religion is significantly restricted. The law prohibits the practice of any religion other than Islam. The President is the "supreme authority to propagate the tenets of Islam." Government regulations are based on Islamic law (Shari'a). Non-Muslim foreigners are allowed to practice their religion only privately. Visitors must also refrain from encouraging local citizens to practice any other religion.
Persecution: In 1998, a severe crackdown by the authorities resulted in the imprisonment and torture of 50 Maldivians suspected of being Christians and the expulsion of 19 Christian expatriates from several nations. Many Maldivian believers are now free but are carefully watched. They have suffered ostracism and loss of jobs, and they cannot openly meet together or read the Scriptures.